Drogheda UNITED’S ground rejoices in the deliciously sounding “Hunky Dorys Park” but former Hibs goalkeeper Nick Colgan hopes it proves to be anything but when his hometown club and Swedish outfit Malmo open their Europa League campaigns in just nine days’ time.
Hibs await the winners of the first qualifying round tie and, while he readily admits Malmo are clear favourites to take that prize, Colgan today admitted he’d love to have his emotions torn apart by seeing his first team take on the club where he enjoyed his best moments in football.
It didn’t take long for news of such a possibility arising to reach Colgan, now a coach with English Championship side Huddersfield Town, following the draws for both the first and second rounds of this year’s competition being made at UEFA’s Swiss headquarters in Nyon yesterday.
It may appear to be something of a vain hope given the apparent chasm which exists between the Republic of Ireland club and their Swedish rivals. Drogheda have made an indifferent start to their current league campaign having finished second last season, while Malmo are fourth in the Allsvenskan league, four points behind leaders Helsingborgs.
Colgan, however, insisted he’s entitled to dream, saying: “I got a string of text messages to tell me of the draw. It’s going to be very, very difficult for Drogheda to overcome Malmo but, if they do come good, then unfortunately for the first time in my career I could have divided loyalties as I have never gone into a game not sure if I want Hibs to win before.
“Given Malmo’s European history and their standing in their own country, the result of the two games against Drogheda should be a foregone conclusion. But strange things happen in football and I suppose I am praying for another strange thing to happen this time.”
Malmo, of course, can boast of reaching the final of the 1979 European Cup where they lost 1-0 to Nottingham Forest. But, while Drogheda’s own history may be a little more modest, Colgan revealed they have their own Euro adventures to recall. He said: “The first game I remember going to was in the early 1980s when Drogheda drew Tottenham, who had won the FA Cup the previous season. Spurs were packed with players like Glenn Hoddle, Garth Crooks, Ossie Ardiles, Tony Galvin, Chris Hughton, Tony Parks and so on so there was massive excitement in Drogheda.
“We’d all got a half-day off school to go to the match and I can recollect standing on the terracing watching a top professional team playing football as Drogheda were very much part-time. Spurs certainly took it seriously, they won 7-0. It wasn’t Hunky Dorys Stadium back then – the name comes from an Irish crisp manufacturer - just plain ‘United Park,’ but I have great, great memories of growing up in Drogheda – I lived 17 years there – and going to the ground.
“As a young boy, it was always an exciting place to go.”
Colgan, who also played Gaelic football on an adjoining pitch, realised the dream of most young boys to play for his hometown club, a season there sparking a move to Chelsea. However, he revealed, the intervening years have seen little change to the ground at which Malmo will turn up on Thursday week before facing the Irish minnows again seven days later at their more impressive Swedbank Stadium. He said: “As a youngster, United Park seemed such a large place but, in fact, it’s a tight wee ground with fans only on three sides as one end is backing onto a housing estate. There’s a little stand which maybe seats about 200 people while the clubhouse where you change is in the corner and the Gaelic football ground is beside it. I recall playing there once for Ireland’s Under-21s against Spain and it can be a fairly intimidating place when it is quite full. You sometimes find that, when you have 2000 people in a smaller ground it can feel as if there are 20,000 there whereas a small crowd in a big stadium can give it a strange feeling.
“I wouldn’t imagine the surroundings will unnerve the Malmo players in any way but, again, you never know. The one thing they can be sure of though, is they won’t get it easy. Irish football has really picked up in the past five to ten years and, while I’d expect Malmo to go through over the two legs, they’ll have come up against a hard-working, committed team with a great crowd behind them.”
Colgan, though, has his fingers firmly crossed that his old club can cause what would be a massive upset and set themselves up for a double-header against Pat Fenlon’s Hibs. He said: “If that were to happen I’d absolutely love to get to both games depending on my schedule with Huddersfield.
“It’s years since I’ve been to United Park to watch a game and it would be good to go back there and catch up with my family but I love going back to Easter Road, I had the best time of my career there – in fact I was in Edinburgh just at the weekend there to catch up with my old team-mates Gary Smith and Stuart Lovell. I’d imagine Hibs would probably want Malmo from a financial point of view, but I am sure the players would rather have Drogheda as they’ll probably think that’s the better option if they are to make some progress. Pat Fenlon was a big manager in the League of Ireland, he made his name there and both he and Liam O’Brien are obviously well known across the water.
“There would be a lot of sentiment involved for them if it were to be Drogheda plus they’d also have plenty of connections to do the homework for them although I am sure Pat and Liam probably know most of their players or know of them.”